Small Queens Issue


Small Queens for Beginners - A Guide to the Identification of Printings

by John Hillson, FRPSL, FCPS

The most frequently asked question about the 1870 – 1897 issues is ‘How do you tell how to classify the stamps correctly?’ This is an attempt to help out.

First, the whole period during which the stamps were current must be divided into three as follows:

  • 1st Ottawa 1870 – 1873
  • Montreal 1873 – 1888
  • 2nd Ottawa 1889 – 1897

There is a small sub-division at the very end of the Montreal period. For 6 months, from September 1888 to March 1889, printing was carried out on the fourth floor of the Gazette Building in Montreal, as the lease of the Montreal plant had expired and completion of the new building in Ottawa had been delayed. The new premises officially opened in May 1889, but there is clear evidence that printing had started by March. The only printings that can be positively identified as having come from the Gazette building took place before the end of 1888.

The factors that will help to positively identify correctly almost every stamp are:
a) Perforations; b) paper; c) colour or shade; d) position dots; e) dated copies; and f) denomination

One could add gum, but since used are by the far most common, and unused can be identified by the above without looking at the back, lets keep things simple.

1st Ottawa Printings


The bulk of stamps printed will be found to gauge just over 11¾ with an accurate perforation gauge. This perforation is peculiar to 1st Ottawa; it does not occur with Montreal or 2nd Ottawa printings. A few may be found to gauge 12, but this is confined to the One and Three Cents only. The Three Cents is sometimes found Perforation 12½ all round, that is a full 12½. No other printing has this, although some Montreal stamps, notably the Ten Cents, occasionally come close – above 12¼ but below 12½.


Early printings are on a very good quality wove paper of medium thickness, smooth to the touch and with a clear grain. A thick soft paper with a very fine horizontal grain was used at the end of 1871, and can be found on both the One and the Three Cents. Because the paper is so soft, there tends to be much ‘confetti’ adhering to the holes which, even when clear of this, often show fibres rather than a clean cut. In 1872 a very white thin paper was used with a vertical grain. All these papers were used only in this period and are not found later.


fi g14fi g12fig 4The One Cent is found either in a clear deepish orange, or a bright red orange - only from this era. Later printings tended to have more yellow in the orange shade, and can be confused with Montreal printings, but not if the perforations are checked.

fig 24fig 22fig 19fig3The Three Cents will be Indian red, copper red, or a rose-red, varying in intensity from deep to light. Orange-reds are not from this period.

fig 18fig 28fig2The Two Cents and the Six Cents are more difficult to allocate to this period. The shade of the Two Cents is generally softer and/or more emerald than printings that followed, while those of the Six Cents have less yellow in their colour and are a deeper warmer brown than those of Montreal.

Position dots

A position dot will be found under the left corner of 90% of the stamps printed during
this period. The left-hand vertical row does not have this feature because the position dot that appears on any stamp actually ‘belongs’ to the stamp printed on its left. Thus, while the 10th vertical row has the dots belonging to the 9th, its dots would appear in the selvage - were they not usually cut off by the act of perforating the sheet.

Of the two plates of the Six Cents used, one shows not one, but two dots - as the sidepoint used to locate the position of each subject as the plate was laid down evidently had become loose and 'sprang’ during the operation.

Dated Copies

Because it was against postal regulations to cancel stamps with a date stamp, generally speaking it is those on cover that can be positively identified in this way - if used before 1873. From 1873 one has to rely on other factors as 1st Ottawa printings were used up. Occasionally of course dated copies can be found, but again a word of caution; it is not unknown for the wrong date slug to have been used.


Only four values were printed between 1870 and the end of 1872 - the One, Two, Three and Six Cents. It follows that the remainder cannot be assigned to ‘1st Ottawa’.

Montreal Printings


Peculiar to this period are three compound perforations: 11½ x 12, 11¾ x 12,
and 12 x 12¼ (occasionally reversed to 12¼ x 12). 11½ x 12 will be found from 1873, but disappears more or less by 1880, 11¾ x 12 is found between 1876 and 1878, and 12 x 12¼ 1887/1888. Some writers have suggested the last can be found on 2nd Ottawa printings, but I believe this to be ‘mistaken identity’. The most common perforation measurement is Perf. 12 - which starts about the beginning of 1876, and is no help at all!


Quality is not so good as it was. The grain is more marked and the paper feels rougher to the touch. Generally the grain on 1st Ottawa’s was horizontal; now it can be either horizontal or vertical according to how it was cut and placed in the printing press. The easiest way to ascertain if a paper has a vertical or horizontal grain is to breathe on it gently and see which way it curls. By 1887 paper had deteriorated to the rag stock used exclusively in the 2nd Ottawa period, and that is why the perforation 12 x 12¼ is so useful - as with some shades of the One and Two Cents it is the only way to separate Montreal printings from later ones.

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One Cent graduated from yellow-oranges to yellow ochre to bright yellow with a lemon yellow shade found in 1880. Two Cents were in various shades of Green from deep to light. Three Cents were orange reds or dull reds with a yellow undertone. Five Cents introduced in 1876 varied from a rich bronze green through olive green to a wishy washy pale olive green by 1887. Six Cents were in various shades of yellow brown, with a particularly dark shade occurring in 1874. Ten Cents came in shades of lilac and magenta and purple. The first printings in pale lilac magenta are so pale as to be fairly described as ‘faded’. In fact they are not; too much white was used in the colour mix.

fig 20fig1There is one colour that is peculiar to the 6 month sojourn in the Gazette Building, Montreal - after the lease of the old premises ran out and before the new building in Ottawa was ready - Rose-Carmine. There were two printings of the Three Cents; the first in September 1888 produced a dark shade, the second in December gave rise to the lighter shades in which the stamp comes. The 2¢ Registered Letter Stamp printed at the same time is also found in these colours.

Position dots

Plates with position dots in the bottom left corner continued to be made until c.1879, but during the 80s the method of positioning the subjects changed and the dots on these plates are to be found, largely hidden. On the rim of the vignette, and may be either at 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock.


Additional values introduced during the Montreal time were the Ten Cents. in 1874, the Five Cents in 1876 and the Half Cents in 1882.

2nd Ottawa Printings

When this plant, built on the site of the original one on Wellington Street, was officially opened in May 1889 it is clear from dated copies on specimens in ‘2nd Ottawa’ colours that work there had actually started a few months before, possibly in February, certainly by early March.


Are no help at all here! Perforation 12 is pretty well universal with 2nd Ottawa.


Apart from the One and Two Cents, where late Montreal printings will be found on very similar paper, this is a very good guide. Poor quality, thinnish paper, with hair like fibres showing under magnification was used throughout. The paper was often toned and the backs often show an embossing effect. There was some improvement in quality from 1893, but it had the same characteristics. The way to separate the One and Two Cents mentioned are by perforation, as late Montreal it will be remembered gauge 12 x 12¼, while 2nd Ottawa gauge 12 all round.



fi g16
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The biggest help. In addition to the confusing green of the Two Cents, it will be found in a strong blue green and a yellowish dull green (the ‘sea green’ of the Gibbons catalogue).
These are 2nd Ottawas. The Three Cents comes in shades of vermilion and aniline ink was used for the first time, which shows pink on the back – or yellow if looked at under a UV lamp. The Five Cents no longer has any clear trace of green in its colour, and varies from pearl grey to brownish grey. The Six Cents will be found in shades of red brown, varying from chestnut to chocolate. Ten Cents can be Carmine pink, salmon pink (i.e. the colour of boiled salmon) or reddish brown.

The One Cent is generally in a shade of bright yellow, sometimes slightly orangey, and sometimes a bit dingy. 2nd Ottawa printings remember are Perf 12.

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The Half Cent is either black or grey black. The plate was re-entered shortly after the move to Ottawa, so the best way to distinguish it from the Montreal printings is to see if the shading lines are sharp and clear (Montreal) or thick and/or doubled in places.

Position Dots

Apart from the Six Cents printed from the ‘A’ plate - which was still in use and is now in a shade of red brown, and which now sported anything from two to four lower left position dots - lower left position dots were all long out of service. With this one exception therefore, a stamp with a lower left dot cannot come from 2nd Ottawa. Some of the plates made in Montreal in the 1880s were still in use, so occasionally one will find dots at 3 or 9 o’clock. Generally speaking, however, 2nd Ottawa printings do not have obvious dots.

Dated Copies

From April 1894 it became officially permissible to cancel stamps with a date stamp, so the bulk of dated copies do come from 2nd Ottawa, obviously with dates after 1888!


The Eight Cents was added in 1893, as was the Twenty and Fifty Cents ‘Widow’s Weeds’. All clearly therefore come from this final phase.


Click here for a separate page showing all the stamps which illustrate this article





Last updated on 31 December, 2018  
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